25pc more fines as schools get tough on truancy

TENS of thousands of fines were issued to parents last year after their children skipped school without permission.

The numbers of penalty notices handed out has risen by a quarter in just a year, according to Government statistics.

And parents are increasingly facing prosecution for failing to pay their fines, with more than 6,300 cases taken to court in the 2011/12 school year.

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The figures show that 41,224 £60 penalty notices were issued for a child’s unauthorised absence from school in 2011/12, up from 32,641 the previous year.

Of the fines issued in 2011/12, 22,043 were paid within 28 days, after which the fine doubles to £120. In 6,361 cases, someone was prosecuted for non-payment of a fine.

The new statistics also show that fewer children are missing more than a month of school without permission.

In total, the percentage of children who are “persistent absentees” dropped to 5.2 per cent from 6.1 per cent in 2010/11.

This means that 333,850 children are “persistent absentees” compared with 392,305 last year.

In total, pupils in England missed one per cent of school sessions in 2011/12, down slightly from 1.1 per cent the year before.

The overall absence rate also fell from 5.8 per cent to 5.1 per cent

This drop may be partly down to a “substantial” decrease in absence in the autumn term, which was due to a number of factors, the statisticians suggests.

There was a drop in pupils taking time off for illness, and the Muslim festival Eid fell out of term time.

Overall absence – both unauthorised and authorised – was also down across all schools in England.

A primary school child missed just over seven days of school on average, the figures suggest, while a secondary school student missed just under 14.

Last year, on average 327,000 pupils were out of school each day compared to 370,000 pupils in 2010/11.

The DfE warned yesterday that poor attendance at school can have “a hugely damaging effect on a child’s education”.

Statistics show children who attend school regularly are four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs including English and maths than those who were persistently absent.

A DfE spokesman said: “If children are not in school, they cannot learn. Too many children are still missing too many lessons. We must continue to tackle poor attendance and make sure every pupil gets a good education.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “Schools put a lot of time and effort working with vulnerable families to help them find ways to make sure their children are in lessons, but sometimes they have no choice but to take a hard line.

“Allowing children to miss school disrupts their learning and puts them at a disadvantage in the long term.”

The DfE has also produced tables yesterday highlighting the schools which have the best attendance records in the country.

Great Ouseburn Community Primary, near York, was named among the top 10 primaries nationally.

The school, which had 58 pupils in 2011/12, had only 0.2 per cent of sessions missed through unauthorised absence.

Hull had the highest level of persistent absentees across primary, secondary and special schools in the region at 6.9 per cent, followed by Barnsley and Sheffield where the figure was 6.4 per cent.

Hull also had the highest level of unauthorised absence across all schools in Yorkshire at two per cent, followed by Bradford at 1.6 per cent and Rotherham at 1.5.

The East Riding had the lowest level of unauthorised absence at 0.6 per cent while North Lincolnshire had the region’s lowest level of persistent absentees at 4.1 per cent.

Education bosses in Bradford hailed the progress being made. Coun Ralph Berry, the council’s executive member for children’s services, said: “The attendance figures out today are the best ever for Bradford schools and reflect the hard work taking place to ensure children and young people attend school regularly.

“I am particularly pleased to see we are closing the gap with the national and regional performance with primary and secondary attendance. However we are not complacent and more rapid progress is needed.”